Turtle pair saved at Sandbar
In a discouraging turtle season in which visitors turned two sea turtle nests into party venues, disorienting the nests, and harassed a nesting mother turtle by petting her and taking flash photographs, turtle volunteers were uplifted last week by staff at the Sandbar restaurant.
Two earlybird kitchen employees found a sea turtle hatchling in the parking lot and placed it in one’s apron while they searched for more hatchlings, according to Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring volunteers Bill and Marilyn George.
The workers found the nest and called the phone number, recently placed on nest stakes after the disorienting incidents. Manatee County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Paul Davis and another deputy arrived, and along with nearby residents joined the search for disoriented hatchlings.
Tracks indicated the majority of the hatchlings from the nest made it to the Gulf, and the group found only two disoriented hatchlings, which were so vigorous, the volunteers let them go, rather than the usual practice of waiting until dark.
“It was a good morning!” they said.
Sea turtles are two shy of last year’s high of 362 nests on Anna Maria Island, with four more nests laid last week, bringing the total to 360.
While the nesting pace is winding down, the hatching pace is fast and furious, with 46 nests hatched last week, bringing the total to 141.
To put it in turtle terms, that’s 12,312 hatchlings that made it to the Gulf of Mexico from the Island this year so far. About 200 nests are still incubating on the beach.
Disorientations are up from two to four – that’s mother turtles or hatchlings disoriented by lights or furniture left on the beach in violation of turtle laws.
One of the disorientations was caused by lights at Gulf Drive Café in Bradenton Beach, according to Turtle Watch Director Suzi Fox, who wrote Bradenton Beach and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) officials that the business has added light fixtures and strands of LED rope lights in and around the chickee huts, and that lights can be seen from the second floor office from the beach.
Gulf Drive Café’s Coconut Hut bar manager Shannon Mortuiccio said she is working quickly to remove all lights that are not compliant with turtle laws and replace them with turtle compliant lighting, possibly solar powered. Mortuiccio said the office windows are tinted to turtle law standards, but blinds will be added to keep the light from reaching the nesting beach at night.
City Building Official Steve Gilbert confirmed in an e-mail to Fox that the Café will remove all lights that are not permitted by the city and FWC and that a certificate of occupancy for the addition will not be issued until they are removed.
“The small tiki between the restaurant addition and the chickee will have to be removed as well, as it blocks the main point of egress from the chickee to the public street,” he wrote.
Mortuiccio confirmed that the structure, which was intended to be temporary, will be removed.
Another restaurant, the Beach Bistro in Holmes Beach, also has non-compliant lighting, Fox wrote Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer in an e-mail last week, attaching photos showing the lights.
Tokajer said he met with owner Sean Murphy, who is working on getting bids from companies to change the lighting.
No disorientation occurred at the Bistro, he said.
Murphy said he spent about $1,200 on lighting last year to come into compliance with the turtle laws, and that the previous code enforcement officer had confirmed that he was in compliance.
“I was in compliance last year and will make sure we bring it into compliance this year,” he said, adding that it will cost another $900 to $1,000.
Meanwhile, he asked for help in monitoring a nest near the restaurant and thanked police for regularly checking it.
“The challenge is the lights from headlights,” Murphy said, which can be seen from the beach regardless of lighting on beachfront buildings.